no takeout for 30 days – notes & tips

My family and I have not eaten takeout for about a month now for any meals. It was purely by accident. This realization came about when I was out grocery shopping for turkey burger ingredients that I’m going to make today (ahhh, so excited to figure out the seasonings and assembling the final product with melted American cheese, a slice of tomato, lettuce and a homemade sauce). In the past, takeout would be more frequent within the month. I’d just drive over to the nearest fast food place, place an order and pay. Wait. Drive home. Avoid crazy drivers (can you hear the annoyance in my voice haha) Eat it–knowing I’m poorer for it and not knowing how the burger was made. If I felt motivated, I’d make my own, but it wasn’t, sadly, my first instinct to do so. It just felt too much of a hassle. And weirdly, now it feels the opposite: it’s a hassle to get takeout.

Cooking has become a bit therapeutic for me. I really enjoy it. My favorite is cutting the veggies and sauteing them in the pan. In the past, I’ve posted a lot of my home cookin’ here. This renewed love for it has overflowed into my daily life and now my family and I can enjoy the delicious creations.

Here are some of my favorites from past posts:

After coming to this realization, I wanted to share a few notes and tips I had in case it’s something you want to try out, too.

The Benefits

  • I feel like my diet is more in my control. I’m not on a specific diet per se, but more in that I am aware of the amount of veggies I’m eating and my serving size. It’s not decided for me as it would be if I were to order out. Was anyone else shocked when you learned how many more calories were in a fast food salad as opposed to french fries? What?!?
  • I’m saving loads of money. Well, not loads, but a lot based on calculating the amount of what it would cost for each meal. I never eat out for each meal, but you know what I mean. For example, if I were to make mac & cheese, the cost of the ingredients alone would be a fraction of a price of a bowl of it at a restaurant. And homemade would be for a family size, not just a cup.
  • The act of making something for myself and others and having it be enjoyed is so gratifying. It’s instant, too. Now I understand my mom’s love for cooking more. She’d always want me to get seconds or to bring some leftovers with me when I left. It’s a form of creation and love.
  • Cooking at home is another way for me to exercise my creativity. I love finding recipe gems I’ve used over and over, but also modify each time. Maybe this needed more onion powder or less soy sauce next time. Maybe next time I’ll use shrimp instead of beef.
  • It seems to put everyone in a good mood. Good food is important for our health in all aspects of our lives, including emotional and mental. And homemade just always tastes better to me. It’s nourishing.

Tips

  • Start with super easy recipes and start small. The first step is to develop confidence in the cooking process itself and feel comfortable with what you have.
  • And you don’t need to be fancy for every meal. You have a loaf of bread, eggs and cheese? That’s a breakfast or lunch. So is just plain cereal. You have some frozen spinach, onions and rice. That could be a meal, too.
  • Frozen food is a good one, too. We’re currently working on eating up frozen pizzas we bought, which we will unlikely buy again since it just doesn’t taste good.
  • I’m not sure if this is true for everyone else, but the more food I made, the more I was inclined to continue. I went from basic easy recipes to more elaborate and time-consuming. A genuine passion develops and the food starts to taste a lot better with all the practice. And my motivation to seek out new recipes.
  • Plan a few days in advance about which dishes you want to make and then go to the grocery store. The more supplies you have ready at home, the likelihood you’ll want to use it (at least this is the case for me and needing to be budget conscious). The more you do this, the more you realize which food items are your staples and which are just special once in a while items.
  • Always have the right basic tools ready. It’s annoying to be in the middle of cooking only to find out you are missing that 1/3 measuring cup or a mixing bowl big enough for the mixture.
  • Experiment with the different spices and seasonings that are available. There are so many amazing flavorings out there that are available to us. I’m still learning this myself. Spices are expensive, so I want to make sure I actually use them. Some basics I always have on hand and replenish are: onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, sesame oil, and soy sauce. I feel like I’m forgetting something, but this is the gist.

I hope this was helpful. I hope I continue on this streak. It makes me genuinely proud and happy. And I am so grateful to find peace and joy in cooking.

My cooking/baking goals at the moment (but I’m in no rush):

  • Bread loaf
  • Ice-cream
  • Thai yellow curry from scratch
  • Chili
  • A delicious pie

grandpa memories

I came across the 73 Questions With Roger Federer from Vogue and it made me feel how much time has passed by. It reminded me of grandpa. Here’s a few loosely strung memories I’ve compiled about him:

As a kid, my dad would drive our family over to visit grandpa a few times a year. We’d get lost on the same curvy road and pass by the same grocery store wondering if we needed to take a left or right turn. On one of our visits, he had Wimbledon on the television and explained to me how tennis worked. I didn’t get it for a while, but it didn’t stop me from spending lazy weekends watching a few tournaments myself.

Seeing Federer on screen again was like being a kid again trying to understand what love meant (in terms of tennis scoring) and connecting with my grandpa through his perspective. I tried by asking him once what kind of music he liked and he said he wasn’t fond of music at all. I was shocked. I never met anyone who didn’t like music in some capacity. Sports, gardening and playing Bridge was what he enjoyed doing.

Just writing the title now made me remember how my sister and I would re-read our thank you cards and letters over and over again because the word “granpa” or “granma” just looked too weird. Obviously, they were spelled wrong. I was a little kid trying to impress the adults with my perfect handwriting and articulate word choices. Looking back on them, the slanted writing alignment, things we considered important to mention and the misspellings made them all the more special and cute. It’s funny and kind of sad how much time we spend fretting over things that ultimately don’t matter.

Grandpa kind of taught me that in passing. He lived it with his life. He didn’t worry about upcoming surgeries, he just got whatever he needed done and moved on. He didn’t complain about working over his retirement age or giving up his stuff to move into a smaller apartment. He didn’t even make silent awkward moments awkward. While I was in high school, he gave me a copy of a journal he wrote. It was fascinating to read again as an adult and I am honored he decided to share his thoughts and feelings with me. He didn’t hide his emotions during trying times or walk away when the pressure was heavy. He even admitted to me when he was scared or when things weren’t going great. His strength, honor and bravery are what I remember most about him. He was human and was the best at it more than anyone I know.

Rest in peace, grandpa. I hope you get to eat delicious chocolate cake all the time and beating all the Bridge games you’re playing. I miss you all the time.

a surreal night | true story

I was in a foreign country, but it was a place I called home at the time. As I sat in the too cool taxi, my aunt talked with me about life stuff I can’t quite remember. She asked me to go to the jazz lounge with her that night and see a a famous singer, who I’ve never heard of. It was cold that night, which was very atypical for the season. Rain was starting with little droplets and it didn’t matter to us because the lounge was around the corner. We walked in and it was dark. We saw her friends at this long table right by the stage. I had chills on both arms and anxiety had creeped in. Looking around the table, I saw there was not a single person I could connect with. Middle-aged  guys and gals; some with cigarette smokes and alcohol breaths made me feel alone. How young was I?

I stepped outside and started taking photographs. It became something I relied on as a way for me to feel productive and not as lonely. The rain had subsided, but it was still there. I see a loving couple dressed up in fancy clothes embracing, and then a big light shines on them like from the movies. They aren’t startled though. A man with headphones holding up a boom mic directed them. They were filming a television scene. They were in an intense conversation one moment and then re-applying their make-up the next. Never thought I’d witness something like this so closely and unplanned.

I went back in and decided to head to the bathroom before the singer began her show. The bathroom looked cool enough for a fancy jazz club I assume. Dark again. When I washed my hands at the sink, I was looking at myself in the mirror and my new haircut made me unrecognizable, even to me. There was this petite woman next to me putting lipstick on, I think. She grinned at me and said something I can’t remember. We shared a laugh and that was it. I walked back to my aunt’s table and she had wide-eyes. She asked me if I spoke to that woman over there. She pointed at the one getting on stage and the one I just spoke to. I nodded yes and suddenly realized why my aunt was so excited.

This singer was the one who judged musical performances on a singing competition reality show my dad and mom often watched on their international channel. The one who is super talented in singing and is kind of a legend in the industry. The same one, who I saw on television myself, but did not recognize in person. Her persona on tv is rough around the edges and is a tough judge. I thought she was mean. But she is the same one I spoke with in the bathroom who was this sweet and friendly stranger.

What a surreal night.

I play Tetris |Puyo Puyo Tetris

I LOVE Tetris. It’s as simple as that. I’ve played multiple versions of the game. I love Dr. Mario, Bejeweled and Tales of Montezuma to name a few. And well, Puyo Puyo Tetris which is the game featured in the video below. I remember being so good at it. I think I got it from my mom because she’s extraordinary with it, too. Never thought I’d ever bond over a video game with my mom, but it happened! What is it about Tetris? I love puzzles. Maybe that’s it. Also, it forces you to try to create a match even if the pieces given to you are random, you only have a few moments to make it work—no matter what. The key to life!

If you want to watch me play Tetris, check out the video below. I’m the player on the left.

What I love about this game is that it allows you to play Puyo option or Tetris option. Puyo is like playing the Tetris game with virtual gumdrops. Also, you can play against the computer with friends or just with computer or just play solo. It’s a cheery game for sure. And quite addicting.

A huge downside to the game is that the Tetris levels are hard. I think Puyo is easier to play. I used to think I was really good at Tetris and then I played against the computer on the lowest level and I still can’t be confident I’d win. Maybe I’m out of practice or well, I’m playing against the computer. It could cheat and I’d have no idea haha!

Video game first impressions & gameplay: Yoshi’s Crafted World

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Check out my gameplay

As of late, there’s been two distinct things in my life that I’ve always done, but haven’t been this focused on as much until now and that’s reading and playing video games. I’ve always enjoyed both throughout my life (with long breaks), but for some reason, lately it’s been kind of what I’ve been craving to do.

This game was released about a week ago and so far, I am really enjoying it. It’s hard to say now if I like this game more than Yoshi’s Woolly World (and that would be really tough to do).

As for my first impressions, it’s cute and fun (as with most of these types of games). I’d say some of the gaming controls are not as intuitive and my gaming partner and I tend to knock into each other a lot. Admittedly, and especially regarding the first level, I wasn’t quite sure how to get points and what the mechanics were (as with all games I play the first time). With that being said, my score was the worst on that level. You can actually see me playing in the video below. I’m the blue Yoshi.

The things I do like is that they allow you to change into different types of costumes when you have earned enough coins to purchase. So far, the random selections I’ve been given have been a goldfish, blowfish, snails, sheep and oddly, grass.

Given the name, the world is pretty crafty. They have 3D folded stars, construction paper environments and corrugated cardboard as train tracks. I think this is fun for the whole family and couples. I would play this with my little cousins and friends for sure.

I’m eager to play more!

on repeat

Right now, I’ve played the same song for about three times now. It’s the middle of the night and I’m feeling here. For a long time, I haven’t felt present. There’s always been multiple thoughts residing on one space in my mind. I want to be aware of this presentness and to appreciate it. Knowing it’s not common anymore has made it a treat; a sweet surprise.

I often wonder if musicians and singers know how much they can affect so many lives of strangers. It must feel so fulfilling knowing that their creations made others feel so connected. And somehow, this here-ness, have made me feel this overwhelming feeling of gratitude—for everything.

….to be here and right now at this moment. I never thought I’d ever have a blog. Never thought I’d write publicly and have others read upon my thoughts. Writing became a companion of mine after my father told me that writing in a journal can help with my emotions as a teenager. Little did I know, writing has been a huge part of my life. Thanks dad.

And for you. Thank you for reading my words. Thank you for being here.

eggs

cycles of life
in the form of oval-shaped
symbols of existence and non-existence
socio-economic backgrounds
through labor and digestion
fast-food industries to farmland America
to vegans and fitness buffs
to children and their children
shells of all varieties
cracked, broken, smooth, intact, colored, white, spotted or not.
the yolks of continuity
boiled, beaten, scrambled, poached, fried and raw
eggs
take a life to give a life

egg still life photography

eggs are food. eggs are cheap. they were what my father and his siblings relied on when he grew up. he would tell me that eggs were one of the few things he consistently ate. always hard-boiled. growing up, my mom made us all hard-boiled eggs from time to time. i bet he got nostalgic whenever he ate one. our lives are so different, him and i. he provided me with opportunities he never had and i am so grateful. cycles of life in the form of oval-shaped symbols.

once, i saw a baby chick on one of those nature shows that aired on weekend mornings for young kids like me. i saw this man take one of the eggs and kept it warm and after a few days, there was a baby chick that came out of it. i grabbed one of the eggs from the fridge and put layers of paper towels around it. my mom asked what i was doing, and i told her that a baby chick was in there and i wanted to see one. later, i learned that the chick had died or never really came into existence. i felt sad because i think that was one of my first exposures to the concept of death or non-existence. eggs take a life to give a life.

bún thịt nướng, fresh rolls and value through food

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I have so many photographs of food I eat. Although I did not make the food here, there’s something about keeping it as a memory for me that makes me feel happy and fulfilled. The more I cook now, I am realizing how time and care truly makes a meal taste good. There has been failures, though, in which I’d spend hours on something and it’d be such a poor reward in taste, flavor or it being too expensive. But I’ve found that the ones I take time on making or make from scratch, I get this appreciation for how the world works.

Take for example this Vietnamese dish above. It’s called bún thịt nướng (cold rice vermicelli noodles with pork and fresh herbs) and with egg rolls (chả giò). I love this dish. How much time, ingredients, and years of passing down this recipe did it take to make this deliciousness that is shared to everyone? And it’s not exclusive to just this one meal, but all the meals you’ve ever eaten at your mom’s house or friend’s house? The ones you made late at night during college in your first apartment? Or the meals you make for your children and you see how happy they are?

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These are fresh rolls. Knowing my mom had made me some growing up, I decided to make some using hers as an example. My mom puts a lot of value on food. To her, it symbolizes family, love and care. When I compliment her on her food, I know it makes her feel happy and vice versa. I know when she compliments mine, it means a whole lot to me. I used to see cooking as this huge, scary obstacle. I knew how to make basic things, but I was intimidated in making anything complex. Now? It’s just a matter of taking it step by step. In case you’re interested, I have a DIY tutorial for these rolls here that I wrote on this blog three years ago. I hope you have a yummy food day.

snapshot and story, 2/3/18

we need more color in our world

I remember the day I took this. Years ago, I decided to play around with my dad’s “new” camera. He probably bought it a bit ago, but I didn’t really care for it until then. Picked it up and decided to just shoot things. Adjusting the different settings not knowing really what it’ll do.

These flowers used to pop up out of nowhere. Maybe my mom planted bulbs, but it’s never really a planned thing–just when she felt like planting and wherever there was space.

And then I realized how really different photography can make things seem. I saw these everyday, passed by them and never took a long enough time to really see them. Until I had this photograph here, and it’s like I have to. I want to. They’ve become a part of me. The angle I took it from, the kind of day it was. All the background story and perspective on my end with memories of my mom or how as a child I’d water so many of them in her garden because she loved them so much. She inadvertently created this wanderer in me who became a lover of nature and spending long periods of time just being in it. Even if it’s quiet or being alone or sometimes difficult because weather isn’t always cooperative, but we love it anyway.

love heals

I created this paint image the same night I made the “smooth colors” entry a post earlier. It’s hard to imagine that 2018 is coming. Throughout this year, there have been strong, positive forces making important changes and with those waves, I think it’s important that we all remember that love is our greatest power. Love is in the way we live our lives, our values, what we are grateful for, why we keep going and who we are as individuals.

love heals

While going through boxes of childhood treasures, I found a card I received from my grandpa. He usually only sent cards during special occasions like birthdays, graduations and holidays, but this was different. The date was November 14, 2001 and he sent a special message inside. I felt like this was relevant to this post. This was roughly two months after the September 11 attacks. Here is a part of what he says, The world is very unsettled now. But we have to stay positive. Quoting Frank Lloyd Wright “According to our strength of character and our clarity of vision, we will endure, we will succeed, and we will contribute something to life—so we can live it better, brighter and more beautiful.I believe in my grandpa. I believe in his love and love in general.

happy birthday to you

To one of the greatest people in my life,
Happy birthday to you.
I see you all the time,
Of a photograph given to me,
On the day we celebrated your life.
The moments you touched us.
The memories we continue to carry
I’ll remember you
For what you stood for.
One of a kind, genuine, caring.
You matter to me
More than you’ll ever know.
This is an epic year for me
And you were right beside me.
You continue to inspire me,
To teach me strength
And to face my fears.
To live life.
Thank you,
I love you.

Rest in peace, A.Q.

capturing light

Light through clouds
My dad took this photograph

Capturing is such a savage word.
Like taking a prisoner without freedom.
But capturing light is unlike its sound.
It’s more like setting oneself free.

I ended up printing this out for my dad and it came out gorgeously. I know I’m biased since he’s my dad, but wow, it’s one of the prettiest things I’ve seen that I haven’t seen in person. I wish I could get a shot like this, but I don’t think I ever have. Thanks dad <3

me, as a kid

Playing with mud during rainfall,
Laughter ensues as gutters overflow.
Rollerblading with sizes too big,
Riding bicycles without hands.
Fallen on concrete floors with scraped knees
Heals with time moving slowly.
And then a golden retriever runs after you.
Your scared heart locks for a few seconds.
Don’t panic, it’s okay.
You love dogs now.
Despite gentle bones and breakable skin
Our lungs can carry our deep breathes.
End goal seeks no perfection,
Rather it’s stories weaving through
Thick threads and tight knots.

a forever bond

I want to hold her hand,
Like she has mine.
Walk her to her favorite place,
Disregarding the lack of time.

Series of film trigger memories
Of places I’ve never seen.
To learn of my guardian
And her life as early as a teen.

She defended me and my honor,
Even when I didn’t understand it.
Shows love through her actions,
Meanings and words at times cryptic.

But nothing is hidden or unseen now,
I see her complete and more so whole.
No longer am I the crawling innocent child
Rather now older, wiser with a deeper soul.

Through sadness, I fear the future,
The inevitable end of human nature.
A wish to see her smile and have our talks.
For as long as I can to be beside her.

My heart aches for things I can’t control.
Time isn’t one to negotiate with anyone.
Even the best of people have their battles.
Fighting a fight that may not be won.